Friday, 19 July 2019

REVIEW: Our Church at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

The Watermill Theatre Artistic Director Paul Hart has commissioned this new play for this season's local regional tour and this interesting new play arrives at the home venue for a short run until July 20th. Our Church is written by Marietta Kirkbride based on a story she heard about a church committee grappling with how far to include a convicted sex offender into their congregation. She uses this basic idea to explore the alternative views of how people react to the situation.

On the one hand the perpetrator has paid the price for his offence by serving a prison sentence and losing his family and the Christian values suggest forgiveness and repentance should be accepted norms . On the other hand how would any of us react to that person if we had suffered a personal experience which had affected our own family lives. The play very successfully sets out the arguments on both sides creating sympathetic characters and a thought provoking situation that challenges the audience to question how they would react as we eavesdrop on the committee meeting. 

Director Nik Partridge gets the best from the cast of three in what is a relatively static situation around a table in the church hall and builds the tension in each act between the characters especially in the scene where Annie reveals her inner thoughts to Tom. However the final scenes are slightly hampered by the structure as one character is unable to move and the second character has to leave the stage several times and it felt that a third character was needed to assist the resolution.

Susan Tracey is excellent as the long serving and influential committee member, Annie who has lost her husband Bill, and quietly reveals how her life experiences have shaped her attitude. Robert East plays Michael, the other long serving committee in Act 1 and Tom, the isolated convicted offender in Act 2 although his Welsh accent does seem to waiver. As he says, "what I did ruined my entire life". The third actor is Kirsty Cox as the newest member of the committee and local Doctor, June and we can sense her frustration at the entrenched unexplained attitudes of the long serving committee members. 

The play is simply staged by Anna Orton to enable it to tour, although the various flower arranging vases of Act 2 seem inappropriately shaped and placed simply to give the actors something to do rather than feeling logical and the two floating church windows seem superfluous. 

The end result is a fascinating ninety minutes that challenges us on the meaning
of repentance and forgiveness and on the societal attitudes to those who have served their sentences and are trying to return to a normal life. It does not side with either argument but presents the cases in a realistic and believable conversations and encourage us to think about the issues and how we would respond in a similar situation. And for that it it is worthwhile, Interesting and entertaining play that is definitely one to see.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row E | Price of Ticket: £20
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